Candidates Speak - Mayoral Hopefuls on Disability

The actions of the city governments of Minneapolis and St. Paul—Minnesota’s two largest cities—have not only a practical impact on the lives of people with disabilities who live in those cities, but also an impact on the lives of all Minnesotans.

With this in mind, Access Press posed a simple question to this year’s candidates for mayor of Minneapolis and St. Paul:

What disabilities issue most concerns you, and as mayor, how would you address this issue?

Following are all of the responses received by Access Press. (There are a number of registered candidates who did not respond to Access Press, and their names do not appear here.) The order of responses is alphabetical, and should not be taken as any sort of priority listing nor endorsement by Access Press or the editors.

First, the candidates for Mayor of Minneapolis:

Dick Franson:

As a retired Army First Sergeant, who served during two wars, Vietnam and Korea, and I was exposed to AGENT ORANGE in Vietnam, consequently, I was awarded a 100% service-connected disability, and I am considered permanently and totally disabled.

Since I have this background in war and peace, I will speak out for all disabled veterans and the disabled community in this area. If elected Mayor of Minneapolis, MN, I pledge to support the American Disability Act 100%.

My administration will employ many handicapped individuals in the mayor’s office. I will lobby the Congress and the President for affordable housing, provide adequate health care for all Americans, provide affordable prescription drugs, and to provide transitional housing for over 4000 homeless veterans in our state.

Remember, all disabled will have my attention, and I pledge that they will be a high priority in my administration from 2002 to 2006.

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Steven Houdek

The issue of mental illness most concerns me because I know people personally that have various forms of mental illness. I know that any homeless people have a form of mental illness also. In the news headlines recently there have been incidents between police and those with mental illness. I would like the city to have an educational campaign. I think a lot of people are ignorant to this issue and put a lot of shame on people who are afflicted with this. The city needs to educate people so we may better help people with mental illness.

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Mark Koscielski

As a disabled veteran, the number-one problem I have experienced in this city is the lack of parking opportunities downtown, particularly in the vicinity of City Hall. As your mayor, I would designate at least two new parking spaces in front of City Hall while maintaining the transfer zones that we currently have.

I will also submit a change in the city ordinances to enable handicap-permitted cars to park for up to three hours at yellow-hooded meters, which currently allow for only fifteen minutes.

I also promise as mayor to be receptive to all proposals from disabled citizens for changes in the current laws and to actively lobby for those changes in the House and Senate.

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Larry Leininger:

Mobility disabilities most concern me. I would like to see more crosswalks along with modified curbs for wheel chairs. Also I would like to see the cross walks bounded by a line on each side which would by law indicate to the drivers that they must stop for anyone crossing the street between the lines. There are laws like this already on the books, but so few crosswalks that the laws are meaningless. More crosswalks would benefit the disabled with shorter, safer routes of passage.

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Lisa McDonald:

The disability issue which is the most relevant to residents of Minneapolis is accessibility. Minneapolis needs to work to develop more affordable, accessible housing. The tightening supply and demand situation in the housing market with a vacancy rate of 1.5% has driven up the cost of renting and buying a home. I am the only candidate for Mayor of Minneapolis with a real plan to build more units.

This crisis especially impacts members of the disabled community who often are low to middle income renters and buyers. My plan would provide new, affordable units at 30-50% of the metro media income and would include units that are accessible.

The City of Minneapolis has an obligation to help properly house its citizens. Affordable, accessible housing would be one of my first priorities as Mayor of Minneapolis.

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R.T. Rybak:

The passage of ADA has moved us forward regarding public accommodations, but I remain concerned that we have not gone far enough to tear down the walls between people with disabilities and the general population. Toward this end, the city needs to promote visitability of new affordable housing units and enforce building codes regarding number of accessible units. I will work to provide accessible housing options along transit corridors, especially the incoming LRT line. As Mayor, I will keep our streets, sidewalks and parks accessible, and improve their accessibility in the winter. In addition, I will make sure the Mayor’s Advisory Committee is truly empowered in meeting with city department heads to address disability issues.

Finally, I need your input. I have pledged to throw open the doors of City Hall and reinvolve citizens – of all abilities – in governing our city.

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Sharon Sayles Belton:

I was honored to receive the 2000 Commitment and Leadership Award from the Minneapolis Advisory Ccommittee on People with Disabilities. As mayor, I will continue to increase awareness among contractors and architects, business owners and the general public as to the needs of Minneapolis residents and visitors with disabilities. To do so, we need to work on several initiatives to ensure adequate housing, accessible transportation and good jobs. I will continue to provide assistance for additional snow and ice removal for seniors and people with disabilities at no charge. I will also work to acquire federal grants and local business and non-profit partnerships to extend employment training programs to people with disabilities through initiatives such as the Train to Work program. And, I will continue to develop partnerships to improve housing, especially affordable housing, to better meet the needs of people with disabilities and limitations.

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Mark Stenglein:

Those with disabilities are too often ignored when shaping public policy. Their input is essential as we develop programs to meet their needs.

The disabled are met with countless challenges daily, such as housing, transportation, and employment. These can often be remedied through collaborative efforts between non-profits, religious organizations, the private sector and government. I believe public safety is our first right as citizens and I will work to make every part of our 60 square mile city safe.

As mayor, I will work to increase policing of our neighborhoods with stepped up car patrolling, and increased foot and bike patrols. I will lobby those in our judicial system to lock away predators rather than allow them to be released, only to re-offend And lastly, I will work to engage our entire society to lend a helping hand and keep a watchful eye out for our fellow citizens.

Here are the responses from the candidates for Mayor of St. Paul:

Jay Benanav:

As Mayor, I will ensure that city services, which includes everything from libraries to information to garbage services, are available and accessible to all our citizens, including the disabled. This includes making all information available through alternative methods,

including the internet and TTY phones, as well as ensuring that all city offices are accessible and equipped to welcome all St. Paulites.

A recent case which crossed my desk at the City Council involved the Humphrey Job Corps center on Snelling. It is a wonderful program providing training to youth, but it was brought to my attention by a young, disabled, constituent that the center was not accessible. I look forward to working with the JC to help them achieve accessibility and, as Mayor, I will continue to work closely with all constituents to ensure that their needs are being met across St. Paul.

Additionally, as Mayor, one of my key priorities will be attracting and retaining a skilled workforce, and that includes disabled workers. I will continue to work with and support wonderful programs in the Midway like MTS and MIDS that provide invaluable services to business, while training disabled workers.

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Randy Kelly:

We must stop thinking of people with disabilities as a separate constituency, and instead promote co-investment in social and cultural outcomes – we’re all just an accident, illness or birthday away from a life-altering disability. Let’s turn away from outdated thinking that sees people with disabilities as a group of “others” consuming social services and public money; people with disabilities are resources: customers, employees, entrepreneurs, and volunteers. Natural connections exist between “disabilities issues” and every day issues: personal and public safety, increased availability of universal housing design, business and job development made possible with assistive technology, a genuinely accessible transportation system, and effective lifelong learning. I’ll work with the mayor’s advisory council for people with disabilities to make Saint Paul the best place for people with disabilities to make their home and workplace in a stable community with low crime and good homes, where employment and business development and educational institutions address the needs and contributions of all its diverse residents.

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Bob Kessler:

I believe that the most important issue is the lack of understanding between the people without disabilities and those who have disabilities. Stereotypes and prejudices abound and the Mayor must foster a better understanding about the whole issue of disabilities.

I believe that the best way to do this is to bring several people with disabilities into prominent positions in my administration and develop a strong relationship with all the members of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities and help the committee to implement their programs and priorities. As a Vietnam Veteran who has worked with many disabled veterans, I believe that I know what people with disabilities face on a regular basis and I want to change the perceptions and actively use the talents of all disabled people.

I want to be the mayor of everyone in Saint Paul, and people with disabilities are a very important part of our community.

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Bob Long:

Our city must be accessible and welcoming and open to all people. As a Saint Paul City Councilmember, I lead the fight for an accessible city hall, city facilities and accessible curbs at our street intersections. I will continue these actions as Mayor. The City must ensure that the needs of its employees with disabilities are met. The City should promote its job openings within the disabled community. The City should also ensure that all of its facilities are fully accessible to persons with disabilities.

The Mayor plays a crucial role in developing housing and can advocate for housing focused on the needs of the disability community. The Mayor must work with the Metropolitan Council to ensure that transportation is readily available to persons living and working in Saint Paul. Finally, the Mayor must encourage private employers to have more accessible facilities for their disabled customers and employees.

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Bobbi Megard:

Supportive housing for people with disabilities is lacking in our city. Efforts made by the Urban League, private and non-profit developers should be lauded. But there’s more work to be done to ensure that our disabled population has good-quality, accessible living space.

There are several factors involved in providing adequate supportive housing. First, it is crucial that we examine our zoning process. There have been incidents where zoning has been used to prevent building or redevelopment, based on the idea that supportive housing should be considered a business rather than a residence.

Second, as Mayor, I will audit the city’s financial accounts to see if money can be found to assist with start-up projects. The city’s role in assisting with infrastructure in supportive housing is invaluable.

Certain services, such as those provided by the Saint Paul Rehabilitation Center, can be expanded and included in city-financed projects. Finally, while building supportive housing, we must keep the ADA handbook by our side to ensure curb cuts, adequate parking, on-site social services, and convertible living spaces.